Simple Food – Made Lovingly

Posted: November 9, 2011 in Biographical
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Does it get any better than this?

I have two amazing god-children. One has aspirations of becoming a social worker and the other, the youngest, has known since the age of five that she will one day be a chef.

The eldest has already been introduced to you in Yellow Car and Could You Be A Social Worker. The youngest I am about to introduce to you through the medium of food.

I usually look upon food as mere fuel; physical sustenance. However, every so often someone reminds me of the emotional element involved in food.  The fact that food can evoke memories in the same way a photograph or a piece of music can touch you deep down within your soul.

It may be a favourite meal that you always associate with your mum’s cooking or the tantalising flavours and scents that take you back to a location or time in your life.

Just as you might bind flour and water to make that loaf of bread – you can bind food, locations and people together as the ingredients that go towards making up the memories that define your life.

Today I spent some quality time with the aspiring nine-year old chef, to make a dish that is a firm favourite of mine, her fathers and one I hope to one day see make it onto the menu of her restaurant – the restaurant she already has a name for; in which she already has plans for her mum to serve as her Sous Chef and the restaurant she fully expects her dad to support when it comes to providing that initial bank-roll.

This dish is quite simple, takes little time to prepare, is simply delicious and – for me, binds together elements that come from the countries that went towards contributing to my very existence on this planet I call home.

The Jamaican Element – Ackee & Salt-Fish:

Ingredients.

Half an average sized onion (you can use a red onion for a little more colour, but that is not necessary at all).

1 tin of Ackee.

1 tin of chopped tomatoes (or get a can of plum tomatoes and chop them in the tin with a sharp knife – it’s a few pennies cheaper this way).

1 or 2 packets of salt-fish (try to get the packets of skinned and boned fish, any kind – as it saves time and the need to skin and de-bone).

1 small chilli (or half a teaspoon of Encona Hot Pepper sauce, same effect – half the hassle).

1 or 2 rashers of bacon (try to get one that isn’t going to add to the salt content of the meal – the fish takes care of all need for salt).

Exotic tastes from simple ingredients

1/2 a pound of flour (plain).

2 teaspoons of baking powder.

2 tablespoons of lard (yeah right, as if I use lard – go get the low-fat margarine from the shelf in the fridge, or 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil).

2 teaspoons of sugar.

Some black pepper (as much or little as you like).

1 teaspoon of salt (I’ll explain the contradiction shortly).

Preparation

Place the fish in a boil of water and soak overnight (reduces the salt content in the fish and makes the dish more palatable).

Preparation over

Go do whatever you do in the evenings or go to bed and get some rest (all that preparation was hard work).

Method

Get one nine-year old chef to do the following (now pay attention, don’t let the nine-year old leave you behind – this is fast and simple).

Dice the onion and place to one side.

Slice the bacon into one centimetre wide ribbons (cut across the width of the rasher, not along its length).

Throw off the salt water you were soaking the fish in and rinse.  Then flake the flesh of the fish into 1 inch chunks, chucking out any bones.

Open the tin of Ackee.

Open the tin of tomatoes (now would be a good time to chop them in the tin if you bought plum tomatoes).

Take the top off the hot pepper sauce (or chop the chilli if you were brave enough to go this route).

Heat a shallow pan with a small amount of oil (I refuse to say drizzle, as the nine-year old would say “what?”).

Once up to heat, throw in the onions and fry until softened; throw in the bacon and cook until a paler shade of pink; add the black pepper (half a teaspoon is enough); throw in the fish chunks; throw in the Ackee; throw in the tinned tomatoes (rinse the can with half a can of water – throw this mixture into the pan as well) and then add half a teaspoon of hot pepper sauce (or the chilli if you were daft enough to go that route).

Turn down the heat on the burner (I know you don’t need telling how high it should have been in the first place – but, here goes; high enough to fry an egg or fry a rasher of bacon [hint, hint]) gently fold the ingredients as though you were folding egg whites and allow the lot to simmer for 20 minutes.

Just chuck it all into a pan... none of that fancy stuff needed.

Top tip

Ackee is very delicate, imagine it being as delicate as scrambled eggs.  If you fold the mixture to heavily it will break down and lose all shape and form.

Guess what?

20 minutes later the Ackee & Salt-fish (the Jamaican element) is done!

The Bajan (Barbadian) element – Bakes:

Throw the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt (this is why we needed the salt) and lard (margarine) into a mixing bowl – notice how we don’t stand on ceremony and say in which order?  This is West-Indian cooking; you’re lucky I gave you measurements – as everything is usually measured in a bit of this and a bit of that.

The part where you might need to pay attention to detail...

Work the ingredients together in much the same way you would when making scones (the English Element).  Add enough water to the crumble-type mix to turn it into a firm dough.

Turn the mix into a firm dough (what else did you think the nine-year old was going to do next?  Keep up!).

Heat some vegetable oil in a deep but shallow pan (use a wok, honestly – a wok makes life so much easier and means much less oil).

Whilst the oil heats up, pull off handfuls of the dough, about the size of a golf ball, and roll in your hand to make nice small-ish balls of dough (try to get rid of air pockets, but don’t try too hard – the nine-year old doesn’t like manual labour).

Place the balls into the hot oil and shallow fry until golden brown on the bottom.  Turn over in the pan and fry another side (which side doesn’t matter; they’re round).

Remember, this is just to give a little colour...

Don’t attempt to cook them through in the pan, they will burn and become bitter (I have no idea how my mum managed to cook them in the pan – something I’ll never learn I guess).  Instead – remove them from the pan, place on a baking tray (it’s helpful to have one of those tray racks in them; the kind you have for the grill) and bake in an oven for 20 minutes (start at 200 degrees C and then turn it down half-way through).

Simple really...

At the end of that – transfer the Ackee & Salt-Fish into a serving bowl (or leave in the pan if you’re like us) and place the Bakes (not dumplings) onto a serving platter – only transfer if you are aiming to impress someone; just eat them if you’re serving up for dinner or lunch.

45 minutes after you started, you have managed to create a simple yet lovely dish of Ackee & Salt-Fish, served with an accompaniment of Bakes.

Mmmm....

Challenge

See if you can manage to walk out of the kitchen without tasting the dish or, for those who really like a challenge – see if you can consume more than two of the Bakes with your serving of Ackee & Salt-Fish (it is harder than you might initially imagine).

Note

The nine-year old and I really enjoyed our meal; as did everyone else in the house, except for the older god-daughter, whose opting for baked beans instead was quite questionable.

So – Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver can take their fine-dining suggestions and apply them to some other meal – this simple meal will be remaining wholesomely home-made.

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Comments
  1. SomerEmpress says:

    Just stumbled upon this post of yours, Mark, and I’m so glad that I did! Thanks for the introduction to your God children. I can feel your love for them come through this post. Food is always a great medium for introducing, and having fellowship with folks, so thanks for the introduction. Coming from Dominica, saltfish and bakes was a common dish in my kitchen, though now I try to limit making bakes to every few months or so. (I need to respect myself in the a.m. thank you very much!) 🙂 Ackee, on the other hand, I need to learn to prepare myself, so thank you for the recipe!

    Looks and sounds like there was definitely some love up in that kitchen!

    • Thank you :).
      Yes, I love them dearly – always have and always will. No matter the times when they aren’t quite as angelic as they could be, they have that way of lighting up my world with a smile.

      Thanks for stopping by – you have reminded me that I haven’t posted anything for a while ;).

  2. totsymae1011 says:

    Love me some Jamaican food. My son is a chef. I’m a vegetarian but I’m showing him this recipe to see how he can alter it for me. Thanks for sharing. Got my stomach started with wanted something to eat now. 🙂

  3. Coco Rivers says:

    Wonderful! Passion that articulates itself in childhood is a wonderful thing to see. I first had this dish in Jamaica and loved it. Will definitely make this dish 🙂

    • Next time we make it I will have to see if she can remember all of the steps on her own – so she can do it all by herself. Until then – I’ll need to be on hand to be her willing Sous Chef :D.

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